John Williams: Another Brick Wall | Mark’s Remarks

We were out of school on Monday for Casimir Pulaski Day. When that day was first proclaimed, nobody knew the guy. Since then, some have found out. Still, a bunch of folks don’t know and probably don’t care. A day off work is a day off work. However, it’s amazing how we often lose track of people, especially those lesser–known historical figures.

I’ve told you before I am an amateur genealogist. I could never be a professional one, because I lose patience and get frustrated too easily. There have been years that have gone by when I don’t even look at any family tree information. Then one day, I’ll get a hankering to do more digging. For a few days, I might visit a website here and there to see if there is any new information. I never spend a lot of time on it. It’s usually just a brief vacation from the usual rigmarole.

I’m spoiled, though. In the old days of family tree research, one had to travel to courthouses, libraries and cemeteries.  One had to pour through big, sometimes decrepit books in the archives or hunt through microfilm until a headache descended. These days, much of the information is online and researchers can dig and search 24 hours a day; in their pajamas, if they wish.

But even the vast internet is limited. A few years ago, I wrote about my great-great-grandfather named Levi Moore.  Little was known about him, other than his birthday and death date. I found it strange that this was so. After all, he died in 1879; seemingly modern times for researchers.  There had to be something out there on him.

After a few months of digging, I found a distant cousin.  We actually used the old-fashioned postal service and wrote letters to one another. I corresponded with some other cousins, too, and we pieced together some other facts on Levi.

A few weeks later, I found him in a census record. He had married earlier in life, married a lady and had two children. He lived in northern Illinois. On a side note, I learned his first wife was a sister to one of my grandmothers on the paternal side of my family. Although the maternal side of my family had no blood link to this lady, it was still strange to see how these two families were once connected, in a way.

The death of this first wife occurred, and Levi traveled to southern Illinois, married my great-great-grandmother, had a second family, and the rest is history. He supposedly died during an influenza epidemic in 1838.

Finding all that information after digging for so many years is like winning a game. Of course, it made me think I could continue doing it.

But my current brick wall ancestor has a much more common name: John Williams. Not only that, but the name Williams is one of the most common among immigrants and emigrants alike in the days between the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Many, many Williams moved across the young United States in those days and many were named John. Ugh.

There are some things I know about John. He appears on the 1850 census at age 72, living with the William P. and Laura Williams Vallette family in Hamilton County, Ohio. On the census, his occupation is listed as shoemaker. If he was 72, he would have been born around 1778. Also, his birthplace is listed as New York. On many websites, his death date is listed as 1851.

I suppose the greatest mystery doesn’t revolve solely around John himself. Laura Williams Vallette, the relative he lived with at the time of his death, lived to be 100 years old.  In her obituary, it says she was born in Dearborn County, Indiana in 1828. Her parents were listed as John and Laura Williams. The obit went on to say that her parents died when she was young and she was raised by her grandparents. On some websites, her birthplace is listed as Franklin County, Indiana. So if her father, John Williams, passed away when she was young, the John Williams listed in the 1850 census must be her grandfather. It would only make sense, him being 72 at the time and her being 22.

So, I searched the census records from 1820, 1830 and 1840. Believe it or not, John Williams shows up in both Dearborn and Franklin County at various times. In his household are females who would fit the age range for Laura; but that information is in BOTH counties.

Ugh. On top of all that, there are TWO John Williams listed on one census.

So, John Williams remains a mystery. It’s incredible that a person can virtually disappear from history with the loss of a few documents or a few mistakes in record keeping.

But I’ll keep looking.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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